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Encroachment on Day of Atonement

By E. Benjamin Samuels, Crimson Staff Writer

Part of the responsibility that comes with being a football beat writer is travelling to all of the team’s road games.

It’s a fun job, but you can end up in some interesting places. Travelling to New York isn’t so bad. Making the trip to Lafayette can be.

As for New Haven, well, at least the rest of the Harvard population is down there with you. But I wasn’t able to go to last Saturday’s game at Cornell. And it has nothing to do with any logistics, travel difficulty, or general lack of desire to go to Ithaca—it’s because the game was scheduled on Yom Kippur.

Instead, the other two beat writers—both also Jewish—and I stayed in Cambridge. Two substitutes filled in for us admirably, covering the Crimson’s 41-31 victory over the Big Red as the three regulars, eagerly and hungrily, waited for sundown.

I’m not upset that I didn’t travel to Cornell, even if it meant missing junior Colton Chapple’s performance—one of the best in Harvard history. What bothers me more is that Cornell scheduled the game on the Day of Atonement.

Both schools have substantial Jewish populations. It’s difficult to put a clear number on it, but various estimates put the total percentage of Jewish undergraduates at both schools somewhere between 20 and 25 percent.

I would be inclined to say that most of these students aren’t particularly religious—and that includes all three beat writers. But even so, many still go through the motions on Yom Kippur—attending religious service and fasting for 24 hours—making it impossible to attend an afternoon game. And it also poses a dilemma for any Jewish players on the team, or players in the band, or in our case, writers in the booth.

Very early in the summer, we all decided that we wouldn’t attend the game if Cornell didn’t change its start time. But we remained hopeful—after all, there is precedent in the Ivy League for these kinds of adjustments.

In 2007, the Department of Athletics changed the start time of the Crimson’s first ever night game to avoid a scheduling conflict with Yom Kippur, responding to complaints from the community.

The team also played a night game in 2010 on a Saturday as opposed to a Friday, and a conflict was avoided with a start time not long after sunset.

There wasn’t an infrastructural issue at Cornell either. The Big Red’s stadium, Schoellkopf Field, has lights.

In the Ivy League, night games tend to attract bigger crowds than other contests during the year. Harvard drew 18,565 in a Sept. 23 contest against Brown, higher than the 13,298 that the team averaged in 2010, excluding the Harvard-Yale game.

Despite rainy conditions, Dartmouth’s first-ever night game drew 8,117 fans, many more than its 2010 average of 5,971 per home game.

I would imagine that the lights would have had the same impact in Ithaca. Casual fans, and especially students, tend to enjoy the night-game atmosphere more.

Certainly, there would have been logistical problems. With a start that late, the team would not have gotten back to Cambridge on the bus until the wee hours of the morning. The team may even have needed to spend an extra night in upstate New York.

I recognize the problems with moving a game around, both financial and logistical. But Dartmouth made it work for Penn, and I think Cornell could have—and should have—done the same.

Jewish athletes have been forced to make tough decisions when it comes to playing on Yom Kippur for decades. Hank Greenberg and Sandy Koufax both famously sat out at critical points—Greenberg in a pennant race, and Koufax during Game 1 of the 1965 World Series.

Others choose to play. Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers did this past weekend, and his team won Game 5 of this year’s NLDS. Closer to home, sophomore Xanni Brown played rugby—while she fasted.

But in the little world of Harvard football coverage, I had my Sandy Koufax moment, abstaining not just for religious reasons, but also on principle.

On the bright side, I hear Cornell’s food was underwhelming. At least I got to break my fast with the finest that HUDS has to offer.

—Staff writer E. Benjamin Samuels can be reached at

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